Cider brewing has been a tradition on the Channel Islands for almost half a millennium. A short drive from St. Peter Port, Rocquette Cider is at the cutting edge of Guernsey’s heritage cider scene, and can be enjoyed at both our The Duke of Richmond and The Old Government House hotels. We spoke to James Meller, owner and director of this organic and sustainable producer, for insight into what makes Guernsey cider so special.
We’d love to hear about how you got started…
“We started planting apple trees in 1998, after a chance meeting with a cider maker who had just moved to Guernsey. Inspired, in 2000, we started pressing a few apples and learning about the cider making process. The following year we were able to produce enough to bottle a traditional six per cent cider. However, stocks quickly ran out and we had to wait until the following year for more supplies.
Two decades later, Rocquette Cider supplies the bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey—our main market. Very little is available outside of this because nearly all is consumed locally.”
Why are ciders from Guernsey so prized?
“The Channel Islands have been famed for growing apples and making cider since the 16th century. I’ve wondered many times why our cider might be different from traditional growing areas in the UK, as we use predominantly the same apples.
The conclusion has to be a combination of factors: fresh Atlantic breezes, increased hours of sunshine and the all-important terroir.”
What’s the history of cider production in Guernsey?
“Early maps of the Channel Islands show that much of the agricultural land in Guernsey was devoted to the planting of apple trees. Although many of the farms in Guernsey and Jersey produced their own cider before that point, production largely ceased in the 1960s. Rocquette Cider has resurrected this traditional activity.
Each year we hold an ‘Apple Swap,’ where we encourage islanders to bring us their surplus apples in return for cider. This is now generating 30 tons of apples annually, which makes up approximately 10 per cent of a year’s brew. People have also started to plant apples with a view to supplying us.”
How do you ascertain a cider’s quality?
“Hygiene and close attention to the fermentation, we believe, is key to obtaining a quality cider. We look for a cider where the character of the apples shines through—in other words, a clean fermentation with no off flavours.
The basic fermentation is over in a few weeks of autumn. That said, an extended period of maturation in the spring rounds and softens the cider, thereby contributing to the character and complexity of the final product.”
Does cider play a big part in local cuisine?
“Yes. Many of the local restauranteurs feature Rocquette Cider dishes on their menus, particularly with Moules and pork dishes, but also cider cakes and sorbets.”
How important is being organic?
“We’ve managed our orchards organically for many years and recently embarked on a soil regeneration program to enhance the soil food web. The aim is to nurture the natural symbiotic relationship between soil organisms and apple trees, to provide the trees with the ability to flourish and produce bounteous nutrient-dense apples without outside inputs.
Not only will this approach benefit the growing of apples, it will also have a low carbon footprint and even sequester carbon. The hope is that this planet-friendly approach will return tons of atmospheric carbon to the soil every year.”
Can guests visit Rocquette Cider Farm?
“In the last few years, our tour business has increased massively, and we’ve developed a tap room where we welcome visitors to taste our range of ciders. Guests are also welcome to walk the orchards and view the production facilities at a genuine family-owned and run farm.”
Finally, what’s new for Rocquette Cider in 2020?
“We have taken our production one step further and started distilling cider and transferring to oak barrels for maturation in our purpose-built, subterranean cellar. In 2022, we will be launching our first Apple Brandy product, after completing three years in wood.”